My Wandering Uterus

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My Wandering Uterus is officially in print! I am excited that my chapter, “The Threshold of the Sheela,” is part of this collection. The book shares stories of women and their travels, and all the challenges, insights, and gifts such journeys entail.

I saw the call for submissions a number of months ago on the Facebook page of Byron Ballard. I first met Byron when she was a bookseller at my favorite bookstore in Asheville. The store had the best spirituality section in town, and I was a young minister who loved books. I often entered the store with an energetic toddler in tow. Byron would entertain him while I leisurely browsed. Once my son was old enough that he was not always with me, Byron would always ask after him and share how much she loved his little jean baseball cap he always wore. (I actually still have that cap in storage – it’s a fond memory of my journey of motherhood.)

When Bryon wrote about the concept for the book, I immediately knew my pilgrimage to Iona several years ago was a story I needed to share. My chapter tells of this pilgrimage, exile, a Sheela-na-gig, and my ongoing irritation with St. Augustine and his view on women. I hope you will purchase a copy!

 

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“Loneliness is the great affliction of our age.”

“Loneliness is the great affliction of our age.” I was only half listening to the author being interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition, but that one statement echoed throughout my small car. I repeated the phrase a couple times before asking my daughter to find a slip of paper and write down the sentence. I continued driving to church while Ava graciously recorded the statement. I listened more closely and soon discovered the author was Lawrence Osborne, promoting his new book The Ballad of a Small Player. I admittedly have not read anything by this British writer, but his insight spoke to me, especially as we were heading to weekly communal worship.

Humanity certainly has been afflicted throughout history. Sometimes it’s easy to spot the problems – violence, disease, fear, greed, discrimination, hatred. Each of these things is prevalent in the world today, but I believe Osborne is correct in his assessment. Loneliness is the greatest of all the ills facing our world today. The irony is that we are more exposed, more connected than ever before. Through the internet, and social media in particular, we oftentimes end up sharing far more of ourselves than is perhaps a good idea. We have hundreds of “friends,” place our every unfiltered thought on twitter, and post selfies of every size, shape and sensitivity multiple times a day. We create an interesting timeline of our lives, encouraging people to know how #blessed we are or sharing our outrage over poor customer service at the local store.

Yet, in the midst of this extreme lack of privacy, we are lonely. A recent study by the University of Chicago revealed that loneliness is dangerous for one’s health even, placing a person more at risk than poverty. During my years of working with college students, I know that isolation (real or perceived) is one of the biggest challenges. The teen and young adult suicide rate continues to increase. If one feels completely alone, the pain is often so great that death seems the only escape.

There are a number of reasons I attend church (and not just because I’m a minister). One of the primary reasons is for the community. God calls us to be in relationship, and we know God most clearly when we are connected with others. It is when two or three are gathered together that God is present. Even when we are not in the physical presence of another, knowing that we are connected with someone else in spirit holds a great power – a great power of grace.

Community doesn’t always need to be found in religious or spiritual organizations. That is obviously an easy place to combat loneliness and isolation, but we can create community with others in very powerful ways. Friends can oftentimes become closer than family. Our co-workers and neighbors can provide support and understanding in ways we can’t always imagine. To heal the great affliction of our age, we are called to connect with others. Social media is a great way to enhance relationships which are already present. It’s not a substitute for doing the deep face to face work required in friendships. Connection is not just about time – it’s also about quality. We must risk ourselves and that which is at the heart of who we are, so that others can truly know us and we can truly know them. That’s scary to do. Revealing ourselves is not always received as we would like, but when it is received with grace and love, it has the greatest power in the world.

Divergent: A Mirror to the Soul

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My teenage daughter and I have read several books together in recent years. A while back, I handed her a copy of Divergent by Veronica Roth. We both enjoy books with a fantastical element, dystopian world views, and strong young women. My child believes that women are naturally strong, insightful, and independent. I am always thrilled to find books, movies, and television shows that encourage this belief.

A great deal has been written about this trilogy (the last book was published in recent weeks), and the first movie made a big splash over the weekend, starring Shailene Woodley and Theo James. Ava and I were part of the throngs who filled the theater seats Friday night. The basic story concerns a futuristic Chicago where society is divided into 5 factions – Abnegation (focused on serving others), Candor (valuing honesty above all else), Amity (where peace and happiness prevail), Erudite (the scholars who believe knowledge is most important), and Dauntless (the fearless, who are the soldiers of the society). At age 16, each member must choose a faction in which to live. Protagonist Tris Prior comes from Abnegation, but learns that she is actually Divergent – a hidden group who belong in more than one faction. The Divergent are a threat to society, and must cover who they are in order to survive. Tris chooses Dauntless, one of the factions for which she is most suited. As with many dystopian stories, there are people in power who abuse that responsibility, and seek to harm society. Tris is the young woman who fights for justice.

Ava and I had a good discussion about the changes from page to screen. They always necessarily exist, and sometimes those alterations are effective, and sometimes not. For the most part, I felt like the movie did a good job in this area. The differences maintained the essential story and the focus Roth created in her writing. One change in the movie actually struck me as far more effective than in the book.

Both the book and the movie begin with Tris and her mother, who is cutting her daughter’s dishwater hair in preparation for the choosing ceremony. Abnegation members keep mirrors hidden, only using them for special occasions, and then only briefly. They believe vanity is a trait which inhibits helping others. That, in and of itself, makes a vast statement in the age of the selfie.

Yet, the movie beautifully incorporates Tris’ reflection as an important symbol. Throughout the film, when Tris sees her own face (in a mirror, water, the back of a spoon), that is when she sees inside herself. She comes to know herself more fully, understands her capabilities, strengths, potential and power. She sees a mirror to her soul. This self-realization enables her to stand up against the powers that be, and to fight for the victims of this society.

God’s light shines in each one of us. Too many young women doubt their own intuition, what their soul is telling them. Instead of looking at themselves, they look to others (society, the media, boyfriends, fathers, the world of entertainment) to tell them who they are and how they can or should function in society. Tris is an example of trusting that light of God in the soul of each young woman, and knowing that great things will happen when they do.

Read the books. Go see the movie. Take a girl with you, and then have a good conversation.

The Theology of Julia Spencer-Fleming

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            I discovered Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson and Russ van Alstyne books about a year and a half ago. A dear friend of mine, who is a female Episcopal priest, gushed over this mystery series. Most the mysteries I read are set in the past. I don’t find many modern mysteries that compelling – they seem far too violent, and real life has enough violence for me. Yet, the kicker with this series is the lead is a female Episcopal priest. Patty handed me the first book, In the Bleak Midwinter, and it only took a few days for me to rush through it. There aren’t many books out there with a female minister, and certainly not one as the primary character. I know we are still in the minority, and I enjoy reading about someone who might have some things in common with me.

             I have no idea if Spencer-Fleming is attempting to convey any certain theological stance or not. Yet, she defines a rather clear one in the development of her characters and story lines. Clare is not the stereotype one assumes for a minister, apart from her gender. A compelling military background prepares her in unusual ways for her parish (totally apart from her crime solving – an activity the typical minister does not usually undertake). Her calling from God is real, fresh, immediate and perplexing. God calls all sorts of people, oftentimes for reasons that no one can comprehend (including the called individual), and Clare represents that so powerfully.

             The other characters are varied and full. The books are filled with experienced and crusty police officers, Granny activists, struggling and misunderstood teens, a variety of veterans, individuals struggling to survive economically and spiritually, wealthy but flawed movers and shakers, and a wide assortment filling the spectrum. The author’s gift is not just that she can create so many interesting and imaginative characters, but that each one is sympathetic. I despise the actions of some of the individuals, but yet I cannot help but have compassion for them, as Clare herself does. There are no perfect people and no perfect answers. Life is tough. Life is complicated. Life hurts. Yet, through it all – there is grace.

             The best fiction provides truth. It inspires us to be more and better than we are. In one book, Clare laments to a colleague that she might be reckless. The other woman tells her she probably instead is fearless. I have used that example to sister clergy, as well as to students. They are two sides of the same coin. Julia Spencer-Fleming’s theology is that each unique person is a child of God, gifted and graced in powerful ways. Her theology is that the life God offers to us can call us so far beyond what we can imagine, and that we should be fearless in seizing grace and opportunities. Hold on tight to that, and we will find the path that fulfills, compels, and inspires.